The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

FEC chairwoman warns candidates not to accept help from foreign governments

Ellen Weintraub, right, is sworn in as Federal Election Commission chairwoman last month on Capitol Hill.
Ellen Weintraub, right, is sworn in as Federal Election Commission chairwoman last month on Capitol Hill. (Pool/Reuters)
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Federal Election Commission Chairwoman Ellen Weintraub released a statement Thursday making clear that candidates for public office may not receive help from a foreign government, in what appeared to be a warning to President Trump, who said he would consider taking information about an opponent from another country.

Tweeting her statement, Weintraub wrote, “I would not have thought that I needed to say this.”

The head of the agency responsible for campaign finance laws clarified that any campaign that accepts help from a foreign government “risks being on the wrong end of a federal investigation.”

“Let me make something 100% clear to the American public and anyone running for public office,” Weintraub wrote. “It is illegal for any person to solicit, accept, or receive anything of value from a foreign national in connection with a U.S. election. This is not a novel concept.”

Weintraub put out the statement 24 hours after Trump told ABC News on Wednesday night that he would not necessarily report to law enforcement if a foreign national offered him political information.

Weintraub, a Democrat, joins a chorus of lawmakers, 2020 candidates and past administration officials who have criticized the president for entertaining the idea of accepting such information in light of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report that determined Russian interference in the 2016 election. The president has maintained his position that information from a foreigner does not always need to be disclosed.

Weintraub’s statement, however, did not clear up the question of whether information is a thing of value, an issue Mueller wrote was difficult to resolve.

The warning appears more of a partisan jab given the FEC’s inability to fully enforce election laws in the past decade.

For a time, the six-member board was split, with three Democrats and three Republicans, and was paralyzed due to partisan deadlock. There are currently four members, and it takes just one to veto a proposal.

In 2014, Washington Post opinion writer Dana Milbank wrote sarcastically: “If you’ve been thinking of breaking federal election law, this would be an excellent time to do it, because the chance of being caught is close to nil. There is no cop on the beat.”